For new terrain and uncharted waters, take your bike on a ferry (or two)

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1 of 8 A Washington state ferry approaches the Bremerton dock. (Bill Thorness / Special to The Seattle Times)
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2 of 8 Cyclists depart the ferry before cars at the Bremerton dock. (Bill Thorness / Special to The Seattle Times)
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3 of 8 Ship-inspired fountains spew water and delight children in Harborside Fountain Park, next to the Bremerton ferry dock. (Bill Thorness / Special to The Seattle Times)
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4 of 8 Kitsap County’s fast ferry can carry nearly 120 people and 12 bicycles to Seattle in 30 minutes. The bike-rack design does not allow bikes with fenders, front racks, disc brakes or balloon tires. (Bill Thorness / Special to The Seattle Times)
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5 of 8 The USS Turner Joy is visible in the downtown Bremerton marina from atop the Manette Bridge. (Bill Thorness / Special to The Seattle Times)
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6 of 8 A life-size model of Tuffy the dolphin greets you at a display at the Naval Undersea Museum at Keyport. (Bill Thorness / Special to The Seattle Times)
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7 of 8 The sail of the USS Sturgeon stands guard at the bike rack and front door of the Naval Undersea Museum at Keyport. (Bill Thorness / Special to The Seattle Times)
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8 of 8 Cyclists can take a break in the outdoor plaza at Poulsbohemian Coffee with a view of Liberty Bay. (Bill Thorness / Special to The Seattle Times)

If you’re a bicyclist, you can plan a ride connecting one Washington state ferry to another. It’s only one of the joys of pedaling dock to dock, letting the captains steer you to a new cycling adventure.

It’s great to have a friend with a boat. But if you’re a bicyclist and that boat is a big Washington state ferry, you can ply the waters of Puget Sound and gear up for new cycling terrain. But the fun factor shifts into exploration mode if you plan a ride connecting one ferry to another. Launch from the dock in downtown Seattle, Edmonds or West Seattle and roll onto boats sailing to Kingston, Bainbridge, Bremerton, Vashon or Southworth. Connect the docks, or use your wheels to move on to Port Orchard, Port Townsend and Whidbey Island. Where’s Waldo? See sidebar. He could be anywhere around the wooded shores of Puget Sound.

Pedaling is surely the fastest way to get to the construction-bogged Colman Dock in downtown Seattle, and from there, a boat to Bainbridge can send you off in multiple directions. Bike up the island to the Agate Pass Bridge and onto the Kitsap Peninsula. Turn north through Squamish for the Kingston ferry to Edmonds, or head west toward Poulsbo, gateway to Bremerton (south) or Port Townsend (northwest).

On a recent sunny day, we decided to bike to Bremerton via Bainbridge.

Navigating toward the Navy

The midmorning sailing to Bainbridge came to a dead stop in the middle of Elliott Bay, with nary a warning nor evident hazard. When the engines restarted after a few calm minutes, an announcer thanked us for our patience as they performed a memorial ceremony. It was perhaps a fitting moment as we prepped for cycling past the massive facilities of Naval Base Kitsap, home to the Navy’s Pacific Northwest forces. A visit to those areas is a reminder of the blood and toil shed by our fellow citizens in the military.

Pedaling off at Winslow, we skipped the pleasures of town and the hilly challenges of the loop road, and instead headed straight up Highway 305 toward the bridge. The first mile is a delightful trail over Winslow Ravine from Winslow Way to High School Road.

Highway 305 off the island and northwest toward Poulsbo contains fast traffic but a good shoulder. Approaching Poulsbo, we carefully crossed onto Lemolo Shores Road, leaving the shoulder — and most of the traffic — behind.

“Little Norway,” as Poulsbo likes to be known, provides a coffee or lunch break on Front Street, 12 miles into the 32-mile route. Pick up sticky sweets or bread at Sluy’s Bakery (hint: pronounce it without the u) or caffeine at Poulsbohemian Coffee (we Scandihoovians love our bad puns), then continue around Liberty Bay to head south toward Bremerton.

Next stop: Navy history, at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, after rolling hills on suburban, then rural, roads. The free museum, visible at the turn onto Brownsville Highway, tells the story of submarines and their evolution as weapons of defense and deterrence. On the grounds are two fascinating deep submergence vehicles and the sail (or fin) of the USS Sturgeon.

Dock at the bike rack next to the ship’s black tower and imagine the breadth and girth of the rest of it submerged beneath the plaza. Inside, learn about ships, weaponry, technology and even the use of marine mammals in the Navy’s underwater operations. Tuffy, one of the first dolphins trained for Navy work, is memorialized here, along with his 1960s exploits, which included carrying messages back and forth to divers.

The Navy’s Sea Systems Command center dwarfs tiny Keyport, but pedal down to its modest dock for a visit to Keyport Mercantile, an old-fashioned grocery and deli. Departing, prep for a 2-mile steady climb on the rolling section into Bremerton. After the climb, test yourself on another one to take a brief detour to Illahee State Park.

Kitsap’s largest city bleeds Navy gray, and it is visible in abundance as you crest the comfortable Manette Bridge into downtown Bremerton. The USS Turner Joy, a destroyer moored for tourism, looms over the marina. Steel-gray ships ply the waters around the Bremerton branch of Naval Base Kitsap and the naval shipyard, just beyond the ferry dock. You’ll notice the sail of another submarine, the USS Parche, at the entrance to the Puget Sound Navy Museum — another gem of military history — next to Harborside Fountain Park, which spouts ship-inspired water features.

End the loop by turning back to Seattle on a ferry. The advent of smaller, faster Kitsap County ferries cuts the return trip in half, to 30 minutes (note: no Sunday service). It’s $2 eastbound, and can take up to 12 bikes. Unfortunately, the hanging brackets have slots too narrow to allow for a front tire with fenders, disc brakes or a touring rack. When our bikes could not fit the rack, ferry staff kindly let us stow them along the aft rail.

A few hours around ferries and the Navy, and you start spouting “aft” and “stow.” It’s only one of the joys of pedaling dock to dock, letting the captains steer you to a new cycling adventure.

 

If you go

Day routes:

Seattle ferry to Bainbridge, bike 32 miles to Bremerton, ferry to Seattle (ridewithgps.com/routes/28060612).

Edmonds ferry to Kingston, bike 21 miles to Bainbridge, ferry to Seattle.

West Seattle ferry to Vashon Island, bike 15 miles to the Tahlequah ferry to Tacoma, bike (about 40 miles) or transit home.

West Seattle ferry to Southworth, bike 16 miles to Port Orchard, Kitsap Transit foot ferry to Bremerton, Bremerton ferry to Seattle. (Note: no foot ferry on Sundays.)

Weekenders:

Edmonds ferry to Kingston (or Seattle ferry to Bainbridge), bike to Port Townsend (41 miles from Kingston, 51 miles from Bainbridge), then Port Townsend ferry to Coupeville/Whidbey Island, bike south 35 miles to Clinton, ferry to Mukilteo, bike back to Edmonds (15 miles) or Seattle ferry (29 miles).

Mukilteo ferry to Clinton/Whidbey Island, bike the entire island and Fidalgo Island to the San Juan ferry (about 60 miles).

Bainbridge to Bremerton attractions:

U.S. Naval Undersea Museum, Keyport, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, navalunderseamuseum.org/

Puget Sound Navy Museum, Bremerton, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, pugetsoundnavymuseum.org

Illahee State Park, Bremerton, 8 a.m.-dusk, parks.state.wa.us/520/Illahee

 

Bill Thorness: . Bill Thorness is the author of "Cycling the Pacific Coast" and "Biking Puget Sound," both from Mountaineers Books.